Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World

Running at the British Museum until 17 July 2011, Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World combines the travelling collection of exhibits miraculously saved by the National Museum in Kabul with artifacts and analysis from the British Museum.

My visit was made all the better by attending the curator’s introduction (the joy of being able to go to weekday events); St John Simpson provided context to the exhibition before homing in on a small number of exhibits representing four key sites: the bonze age gold and silver vessels found at Tepe Fullol, the Hellenistic city of Ai Khanum, the stunning hidden storerooms at Begram (aka Bagram) and the super high status nomadic burial mound at Tillya Tepe.

As St John Simpson says in Showing Treasures on the British Museum blog:

In the exhibition title we describe Afghanistan as the crossroads of the ancient world and I think that the 200 objects spanning 3,000 years will show exactly why that’s an appropriate description.

Its geographical position, on the edge of central Asia with India and China beyond to the east and Iran, the Middle East and the numerous cultures of the Mediterranean and the rest of Europe to the west, it was criss-crossed by ancient trade routes. In many ways then as now it was a hub and meeting place for diverse cultures and neighbours, both near and distant, over thousands of years.

In the modern world it’s all too easy to think of Afghanistan solely as a place of conflict – and indeed the objects that will feature in the exhibition tell that story as well – but taking the long view we can see in the rich materials and ornate craftsmanship of these objects a far broader story.

The Afghanistan portrayed in this exhibition feels a million miles away from the land of the Taliban and the Surge, and has whetted my appetite for the Wild Frontiers trips to Afghanistan

But before then, I’ll be heading up to Oxford to visit the Ashmolean’s exhibition Heracles to Alexander the Great – as mentioned by one of the audience at the talk (what’s the equivalent of name dropping for events?) – to see treasures from the the royal burial tombs and the palace of Aegae, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Macedon in northern Greece.

Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World - signage on the steps of the British Museum
Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World – signage on the steps of the British Museum